Best new TV shows to stream: 19 October
- Brian Donaldson
- 19 October 2020
Including Roadkill, Seduced and Twenties
Featuring appearances from three icons of the Scandi TV explosion, here are new shows for your small screens
The Undoing ★★★★☆
The Undoing is certain to be no fun at all for one potential viewer. Were Paddington Bear to access his Sky subscription and see its co-stars Nicole Kidman and Hugh Grant (variously his nemeses in the big-screen movies of 2014 and 2017 about the cuddly Peruvian), he might spill marmalade all over his wellies. For the rest of us, seeing two actors doing what they do best (Kidman all glacial and elegant, Grant all blustering and polite) is an enjoyable enough treat. Add in an extremely hooky whodunnit after a gruesome murder is committed, and you have six weekly episodes that won't come around quickly enough.
Grant and Kidman play the Frasers, an ostentatiously successful and influential New York couple: Mike is an oncologist, Grace is a therapist, with both of them helping strangers in their darkest moments. They've also managed to raise a savvy teenage son, Henry (Noah Jupe) who acts as a glue when the pair's relationship starts to unravel. And unravel it most certainly does, when a corpse shows up and the finger of suspicion is directed straight into the Frasers' lavish home.
Created by David E Kelley (with whom Kidman worked for the equally mysterious Big Little Lies), The Undoing (adapted from Jean Hanff Korelitz's 2014 novel You Should Have Known) is the textbook tale of a seemingly rock-solid partnership which, to Mike's full knowledge and Grace's complete amazement, is built on perilous, deception-filled foundations. The Killing's Sofie Gråbøl (the first of three Scandi TV icons in this week's round-up) plays a prosecution lawyer, and Donald Sutherland is Grace's wolfish father who has no time for his son-in-law. Without giving anything away, expect shocks and misdirections aplenty.
Sky Atlantic, starts on Monday 26 October, 9pm.
Seduced: Inside The NXIVM Cult ★★★★☆
When you read the true-life cast list of this cult story, you might think it's too bizarre to be true. The main subject is India Oxenberg (daughter of Catherine who played Lady Di in a 1982 TV movie before appearing in Dynasty), a young woman who was inculcated in the Executive Success Program which was essentially a front for NXIVM. This secret society enslaved and branded young women who for many years had been brainwashed and encouraged to cut off ties with their family.
So successful was the group's leader Keith Raniere in making NXIVM appear to be a perfectly innocent, summer camp-like self-improvement operation that the Dalai Lama attended one of their conferences. Also involved in this hellish set-up is Allison Mack (Chloe Sullivan from Superman origins drama Smallville), a NXIVM slave turned racketeer who was alleged to be the originator of the group's branding practices. Raniere was convicted on many charges in 2019 and is set to be sentenced at the end of this month.
The interviews with the Oxenbergs reveal a trail of bad choices which ultimately led to India's incarceration and torture, and a lifelong guilt complex for Catherine who allowed her daughter to be led astray. Among the filmmakers is Cecilia Peck (her dad was legendary Hollywood actor Gregory), who was also recruited by NXIVM, and the high production-value insider footage from within the cult's own files provides a remarkable archive of a life that seems so ordinary but which masks a savage cruelty. Allied to a series of interviews with cult experts and NXIVM victims, this docuseries is a terrifying portrait of a nefarious organisation moulded by a narcissistic, corrupt individual.
Starzplay, episode one available now; episode two, Sunday 25 October.
Casting actors to play sympathetic right-wing politicians that a liberal-left audience can stomach is likely to be front and centre of a showrunner's mind. The West Wing nailed it in having Alan Alda as Republican-with-a-heart Arnie Vinick, while Armando Iannucci avoided the issue altogether by never declaring the party of choice for Julia Louis-Dreyfus' Selina Meyer in Veep. For David Hare's four-part Roadkill, the man behind so many top TV buffoons (from Bertie Wooster to Blackadder's various Georges) is handed the task to make rising Tory politician Peter Laurence seem more than just a cardboard gammon cut-out. And, as you'd expect, Hugh Laurie is perfectly able to deliver on that promise.
Laurence's world is rife with problems: one of his daughters loves cocaine, the other is a committed environmentalist while his wife Helen (Saskia Reeves) is understandably pretty fed up with his philandering (Laurence spends an inordinate amount of time at the flat of Madeleine, as played by Sidse Babett Kundsen who knows a thing or two about fictional corridors of power having been the leader of Denmark in Borgen).
Despite coming off the back of a victorious libel case and earning a promotion (of sorts) within the Cabinet, rumours persist about his private life and business shenanigans. A determined journo is on Laurence's case, his driver hates his guts, and he serves for a Prime Minister (a very Thatcher-esque Helen McCrory) who looks like she wouldn't be dashing for a fire extinguisher were he to be ablaze.
A very irritating theme tune and recurring piano motif that is snaky and jazzy when it surely should be a bit more daunting and doom-laden, don't help matters. But there's enough intrigue on show in Roadkill to keep you hooked, and also, weirdly, make you root for Peter Laurence.
BBC One, Sundays, 9pm; all episodes available on BBC iPlayer.
The Same Sky ★★★☆☆
For fans of Scandi Noir, the return of Sofia Helin to our screens is cause for celebration. As idiosyncratic Malmö cop Saga Norén, she was a large part of The Bridge's appeal before it ended in 2018. This latest Walter Presents production, The Same Sky, was made in 2017 but finally arrives for its UK debut. A German production (albeit shot in Prague), it zeroes in on the Germany of 1974, a divided country in which the Cold War is raging like it's 1962. There's also a football World Cup to be played for, held in West Germany, with the two nations set to clash in the early rounds. Meanwhile, Don't Look Now is tearing up Berlin's arthouse cinemas and everyone seems to be listening to Bowie.
Helin plays Lauren, a divorced data analyst in the employ of Britain's secret service, who is targeted by the East via young operative Lars (Tom Schilling). His assignment is to seduce her and send back as much sensitive information as he can gather during pillow talk. Elsewhere, a talented young swimmer is aiming to reach the East's national squad with the long-term goal of representing her country at a future Olympics: but how far will her coach and family allow her to go in the name of sporting glory? Plus, a popular science teacher puts everything at risk by getting involved with a radical group attempting to tunnel its way through a bakery and into the West.
Unlike other European dramas such as The Bridge or The Killing, the many narrative strands here exist not so much to be pulled together in a dramatic conclusion, but purely to paint a wider picture of 1970s Germany. So, while the denouement of The Same Sky might bring some storylines to closure, one major plot is left dangling. Frustratingly so given that there are no plans for a further series. But this is still a beautifully shot and well-acted portrayal of a country at vicious war with itself.
More4, starts on Friday 23 October, 9pm; all episodes available on All 4, Friday 23 October, from 10pm.
We've seen fictionalised stories down the ages of people trying to make it into the world of show business, but Twenties is probably the first which offers this narrative from a black female perspective. This fact alone should make it worthy of trumpeting, but the eight-parter about a trio of pals based in LA is so packed with flaws and irritations, that it makes you hope that someone else comes along with a much better and far funnier execution of the same idea.
The main problem is with lead character and aspiring screenwriter Hattie played by Jonica T Gibbs: it's difficult to truly root for someone who acts like a spoilt child, unable to stop herself from throwing pretend punches at people she doesn't like. When she pompously chastises her mum (the brilliant Kym Whitley) for just turning up at her workplace unannounced as this might not make her look like a serious player, it comes a minute after she was slouched half-asleep at her desk. Complaining almost every few minutes that she can't get a break with her writing ambitions, Hattie regularly avoids getting stuck into a script to go to parties or hang out with pals. If this truly is a work of autobiography, then it's clear that somewhere down the line, Twenties creator Lena Waithe must have given herself a good shake.
Thankfully, the other members of this friendship trio are of more interest: yoga teacher Nia (Gabrielle Graham) still harbours acting ambitions while trying to understand why her new boyfriend doesn't have a mobile phone, and TV studio exec Marie (Christina Elmore) suspects her husband may have an alternative take from her on sexuality due to his changing taste in porn. This, sadly, is about as compelling as Twenties gets.
All episodes available on BBC Three, Sunday 25 October.